My Turn: Road to Skagway allows freest travel at lowest cost

Posted: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Why are environmental groups like the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council so dead set against the Department of Transportation building Alternative No. 2, a road from Juneau to Skagway? This alternative would allow the traveling public to move freely on Lynn Canal at the lowest possible cost. Instead, these groups want you to support the most restrictive and costly No Action Alternative, which would provide less service at a greater cost to the traveling public and the greatest maintenance cost, $6 million annually, to the state of Alaska.

If you've been paying attention to state finances, you must know that we are in a budget crisis. So why are these same environmental groups so against two of the most important Alaska projects, ANWR and the Alaska Gas Pipeline? These projects would bring much needed revenue back into Alaska's general fund, allowing our Legislature to increase funding for important programs like education, health and social services, municipal sharing, and transportation.

The state also could bring back the longevity bonus for seniors, erase the deficit in the public retirement system, increase contributions to the Alaska Permanent Fund and increase the size of the PFD checks received by every man, woman and child in Alaska. The environmental groups demonize these projects, yet provide no meaningful alternative solutions. Do you really think these groups have your best interest in mind, or could it be they're just using these issues to raise environmental funds in the Lower 48 states?

On Feb. 20, the Juneau Empire came out with an editorial that makes you wonder if the person who wrote it even took the time to read the Juneau Access DEIS. It should be pointed out that just a few short months ago in an editorial, the Empire publisher didn't even know there was a road from Skagway to the Alaska Highway. Is this the paper you want to take advice from?

Lynn Canal travelers are complaining about the current lack of ferry service. It is now only two trips per week. Do you think the governor is trying to tell us something? Maybe he's telling us the state can no longer subsidize the Alaska Marine Highway System because of the ever-shrinking budget, and if something isn't done to fix it, we can expect even less service in the future.

Juneau is hot on the trail of trying to build a new $100 million capitol building, a building that will make all Alaskans proud of their capital city. The only problem is most people in the state can't afford to come to Juneau to enjoy it. Does this make sense?

If we blow this opportunity to make Juneau more accessible, I may support the next capital-move effort, which is probably just around the corner. Why would I do something like this? Well, maybe the Anchorage Times had it right by referring to Juneau as a backward-thinking isolated little community that gets fat off government jobs, and is so protective of this lifestyle that we are unwilling to do what it takes to join the mainstream of Alaska.

I remember going to Anchorage with my wife and a large contingent of Juneauites in the mid-1980s, when Juneau was fighting to keep the capital. We pounded on doors all over town asking voters to support Juneau as Alaska's capital and promising to do everything possible to make Juneau more accessible to the rest of the state. Now, when we finally have the opportunity to do just that, a certain segment of this community is doing everything they can to kill the project. I'll bet a lot of those people don't really plan to stay here, or haven't lived here for very long.

This is such an important issue for Juneau that I would hope more Juneauites will stand up and be counted. We have everything to gain by supporting Alternative No. 2 Road Access to Skagway and much to lose if we fail to do so. Now the big question is, are we going to be the capital city of Juneau or the capital city of Alaska? You decide.

• Rich Poor is a Juneau resident and served on the Juneau Assembly for seven years.

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